Penpont Heritage Centre

Joseph Thomson and the Exploration of Africa

“He who goes gently goes safely; he who goes safely goes far.”

Joseph Thomson led six expeditions into uncharted areas of Africa. He opened up new routes to Lake Nyasa and Victoria Nyanza, was the first white man to enter the Rift Valley, mapped huge expanses of what are now Kenya, Morocco and Nigeria, made important scientific discoveries about Lake Tanganyika, Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya and discovered Thomson’s Falls (named after his father) as well as new species of plants and animals, including Thomson’s Gazelle.

Gifted with phenomenal stamina and fitness, Thomson is also famous for his reliance on friendly words and persuasion, rather than threats of violence, when faced with difficult situations on his travels. In all his expeditions, none of his travelling companions met a violent end.

“…my fondest boast is, not that I have travelled over hundreds of miles hitherto untrodden by the foot of a white man, but that I have been able to do so as a Christian and a Scotchman, carrying everywhere goodwill and friendship, finding that a gentle word was more potent than gunpowder, and that it was not necessary, even in Central Africa, to sacrifice the lives of men in order to throw light upon its dark corners.” 
‘Dumfries & Galloway Standard’ 15 Sep 1880

It is tragic that Thomson died – in 1895, at the age of only 37 – from illnesses acquired during his expeditions.

Routes - click to enlarge

1879-80 – Thomson’s first expedition:  Dar Es Salaam to Lake Nyasa and Lake Tanganyika

1881 – Thomson’s second expedition:  along the River Rovuma in search of coal deposits

1883-84 – Thomson’s third and most famous expedition: Mombasa to Lake Victoria, known as ‘The Masai Journey’

1885 – Thomson’s fourth journey: following the course of the River Niger

1888 – Thomson’s fifth journey: into the Atlas Mountains

1890 – Thomson’s sixth and final expedition: the Zambia Journey

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The Centre will open for the 2017 season at East weekend, Saturday 15 April and will be open Saturdays and Sundays thereafter until the end of September. If you wish to come to the centre at other times, we are very happy to arrange a suitable time. Click here to contact us.



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EVENT! We are organising a nature and history walk around Keir on Sunday 23 July 2017, starting from the Village Hall at 1.20pm. This walk is being led by Hugh Buck, who is the secretary of the Group, ably supported by Sophia Harkness. The walk will go down to Courthill, along to Scaurbank and back to Keir along the river. If you want you can join the walk in Keir. There should be some interesting information. We will return to the Hall for afternoon tea and a look at some photos, old and new of Keir. Donations to assist in the running of the Local Heritage Centre will be gratefully received. Come along. If you want to book a place, please contact Sophia on 01848 330411, Hugh on 01848 330933 or Maureen on 01848 331529. You can contact us by e-mail by clicking here.


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